Last year, K discovered something amazing: White Rock Lake’s mute swan, Katie, aka Lady Katherine, was mating with a goose called Patches. Willingly mating. Happily mating. In fact, Lady Katherine was usually the aggressor.
K was horrified that a swan would fuck a goose. She ended up deleting the pics she took of Lady Katherine and Patches mating because she was so grossed out. Luckily, I had witnessed a couple of their sexual encounters from last year and got some pics to document that it happened.
I wondered if they would rekindle their relationship this year. While Patches and Lady Katherine were getting it on last year, Patches was mated to a female goose called Annie with whom he socialized and had sexual encounters. Annie and Patches are still together.
Apologies for the blurriness in the thumbnails; goddamned WordPress is STILL compressing and framing my pictures strangely, despite some changes Q made.
On January 13, I was hanging out with Mister Mary Mack by the shore at Sunset Bay. It was cold outside—I’m not sure if the temperature even got to 40. Throughout the afternoon I watched the pelicans fly in and swim to the marshy spit where they loaf on cold days. When there were lulls in the pelican action, I watched the geese. Cutie Pie, the Ross’s goose that joined the goose flock at White Rock Lake, climbed out of the water and preened, and Lady Katherine waddled into the water and swam away.
I peered far out into the water.
Settle back, readers, and prepare to bask in the wonders of interspecies copulation. This is HARDCORE birdie action.
Lady Katherine and Patches started mating last year in late winter. At one point in time K saw them mating almost daily. I recorded two instances of their coupling in two days in late March of 2014.
Is Patches successfully penetrating Lady Katherine? I’m not sure. Sometimes it does not appear to be so, but that’s not surprising; I doubt any bird achieves success every time that sex is attempted. Patches does seem to know that he has to back up much further than he would with another goose, but as you can see in the last pic, he has to negotiate around Lady Katherine’s large tail, which makes the situation more difficult. I have witnessed Lady Katherine engaging in some post-copulatory displays, and I definitely have witnessed Patches in such displays, but I don’t know if geese or swans display after successful copulation or if they do so even after attempted but unsuccessful copulation. A couple of times I saw Patches’s pseudopenis still extended after he disengaged from Lady Katherine, but again, I don’t know whether that means penetration was successful or if he had been preparing for penetration but did not succeed. I don’t remember if Patches displayed after either of the attempts I recorded last year, but I do remember that once Patches dismounted after this attempt, he chomped Lady Katherine’s neck.
They were back at it the next day.
The mating sequences from 2015 will be displayed after the cut.
The next pics are from January 17th.
The next encounter that I witnessed, on January 20th, involved extensive courtship displays by Lady Katherine. Watching her, I wondered how she and Patches were ever able to effectively communicate their desires to mate with each other. Although Patches’s pre- and post-copulatory displays seem to be fairly consistent with displays performed by other geese, Lady Katherine’s ritualized displays have been severely curtailed. The only consistent display that she performs is the courtship display, although sometimes she will perform some pre-copulatory head-dipping with Patches before he mounts her. Lady Katherine also retains preening and head-turning behavior after copulation. Head-turning is the main activity she uses to flirt with Patches in her courtship display.
The next several pics illustrate head-turning. Notice that the top of half of Lady Katherine’s neck is ruffled so that it appears larger than the bottom half. This is part of her display. To head-turn, Lady Katherine turns her head from side to side, dipping her head and neck downward in a deep bowing motion as she switches directions.
As part of an initial post-copulatory display, mute swans rise together out of the water and turn to face each other, touching breast-to-breast, while head-dipping. I wonder if Lady Katherine doesn’t perform this display because Patches doesn’t initiate it. Patches doesn’t dismount the way a male swan does; he slides off her back, often turns toward her to bite her neck, then displays.
When I saw them mate on the 27th, however, Lady Katherine attempted what I thought looked like a version of a post-copulatory display.
A few days later, I watched Lady Katherine waddle up onto the main pelican loafing grounds by the dock and perform a courtship display in front of Chester, another white goose. I’m not sure if Chester even noticed that she was there. That incident filled me with even more respect for the flexibility and ingenuity of interspecies communication. Behavior may be ritualized, but environmental factors can change rituals, as seen with Lady Katherine while mating with Patches. Patches didn’t respond in the way that Lady Katherine expected after mating, so she changed the way she behaved.
On February 2, they were back at it again.
Mute swan couples are supposed to bond very strongly to each other, staying together even after mating and chick-rearing is finished. Patches will occasionally mate with Lady Katherine, and sometimes I see them near each other on land, but Patches spends most of his social time with Annie. I wonder how Lady Katherine deals with having a sexual partner but not a social partner. Or does she not notice the social absence because Patches is not a swan?
When I watched Lady Katherine and Patches last year and for the first couple of encounters this year, Lady Katherine usually seemed to be initiating the courtship. This past Tuesday, I watched Patches attempt to entice Lady Katherine into some sweet interspecies loving, but she did not reciprocate. Another observation: I have not yet seen Patches mate with Annie this year. I really hope that the two geese have been mating and that I just haven’t witnessed it.
I will continue to document The Love Song of J. Alfred GooseSwan, but further couplings will get their own posts.